Written by Kylie Lucas, Pharmacist.
If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant, are currently pregnant, or are breastfeeding, your pharmacist is a great resource to help you with your medication and supplement needs. As a parent myself, I know how daunting and confusing it can be when you are unsure of what you can and can’t take. To guide you along your journey, here are some pointers which every pregnant or breastfeeding mother should be aware of:
1. If possible, seek advice before you become pregnant
If you’re thinking about having a baby, now is a good time to check in with your doctor. Make sure that your vaccinations are up to date and you have immunity to infections such as chickenpox and German measles (rubella)1. If you are living with a pre-existing medical condition such as asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure, discuss your lifestyle management with your doctor. If you are currently taking any medications, remind your doctor and don’t forget to mention any over-the-counter medications, vitamins or herbal supplements (the MedAdvisor app is the perfect way to maintain an updated list of all of your current medications). Some medications taken by your partner can affect sperm health so alert your doctor about this too.
However, given that many pregnancies are unplanned, see your doctor as soon as you think you are pregnant.
2. Don’t forget the essential vitamins and supplements!
It is best to get vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, but when you are pregnant, you will need to take some supplements as well. This may include:
- Folate – a key nutrient during pregnancy as deficiencies are associated with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. While folate can be found in green leafy vegetables, fruit and legumes, nutritional requirements are higher during pregnancy. It is recommended that a supplement is taken in the form of folic acid. The usual dosage is 400mcg of folic acid per day for at least a month before conception and for the first 3 months of pregnancy2. Some women may need higher doses depending on their medical history and other medications, so check with your doctor or pharmacist first about the right dose for you.
- Iodine is a mineral which is important for the healthy development of a baby’s brain and nervous system. It is recommended that women take a supplement containing iodine 150mcg per day from pre-conception, during pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding. Women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should seek advice first3.
- Other important vitamins and minerals include iron, zinc, vitamin D and calcium4. A varied, nutrient-rich diet should provide enough of these (with the addition of a healthy amount of sun exposure in the case of vitamin D) but if you are vegetarian, vegan or have other dietary restrictions then seek advice as to whether you need to consider supplementation.
- Fish oil is another supplement frequently taken during pregnancy. Fatty acids are necessary for brain and eye development and may have a role to play in preventing preterm birth or perinatal depression5.
- Probiotics are growing in popularity and whilst, research is continuing, there seems to be evidence for decreasing the incidence of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes in pregnant women, as well as allergic disorders in the infant7.
3. Don’t assume that “it’s better to take no medication”
During pregnancy, you may start to experience ailments such as nausea, joint aches & pains, constipation or heartburn. All of these conditions have safe treatment options and treating them can help you enjoy a happy, comfortable pregnancy. Your doctor and pharmacist can help you weigh up the risks versus benefits of particular medications.
4. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe
Some herbal supplements and essential oils are considered risky in pregnancy, like black cohosh, pennyroyal, and ginseng. Vitamin A supplements are also harmful to a developing baby. For other natural medicines, there is simply not enough scientific research to be confident that they are safe so check with your doctor or pharmacist before using any of them in therapeutic amounts.
5. Some medications may be safe during pregnancy but not when breastfeeding (and vice versa)
The way medications cross the placenta is different to the way they enter breast milk, and hence a baby’s exposure to the medication is different. As some medications may have the effect of decreasing breast milk supply, you should check with your pharmacist or doctor about the safety of the medication. Sometimes it may be possible to take a medication if consideration is given to the timing of feeds in relation to the dose to help minimise the amount that enters the breast milk.
If you still have more questions about what medications and supplements are safe to take, why not drop into your local pharmacy? Your pharmacist is a great source of advice and support for those expecting or for anyone with a young family.
This post was written by Kylie Lucas. Kylie has been a pharmacist for over 10 years and works in a country town pharmacy in the south west of Western Australia. She lives on a farm with her husband, daughter and lots of pet animals.